When she was bad

alice sweet alice 1976


4 Stars  1976/18/103m

“If you survive this night… Nothing will scare you again.”

A.k.a. CommunionHoly Terror

Director/Writer: Alfred Sole / Writer: Rosemary Ritvo / Cast: Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula Sheppard, Niles McMaster, Jane Lowry, Rudolph Willrich, Michael Hardstark, Alphonso DeNoble, Brooke Shields, Gary Allen.

Body Count: 4

Laughter Lines: “My mother thought you could use some cake, fatty.”

You know that meme of the little girl almost smiling in front of a burning house? That’ll come to mind when the credits roll here.

I grew up in a very religious environment – church every Sunday, although instead of church, it was some outhouse in a guy’s garden known at The Tabernacle where sermons or whatever lasted 2-3 hours every week. Sounds more like a cult now that I write it down.

Nothing turns a kid away from religion (and into the liberating arms of horror movies) quicker than having it forced upon you, so it’s no surprise now I don’t categorise myself as having any belief. Agnostic, I suppose. I believe in nature, rather than a sentient higher power that cares deeply about our every thought or notion.

alice sweet alice 1976

Seems like maybe Alfred Sole had a similar thought process about Catholicism as evidenced by the quite anti-organised religion sentiments at work in Alice, Sweet Alice, a quirky, plot and character driven pre-Halloween production that draws some inspiration from the Italian giallo subset.

“Parents so often don’t know their children as well as they presume,” says a shrink of Catherine’s troublesome oldest, Alice (Sheppard, who was 19 playing 12), who is mean to her little sister Karen (Brooke Shields in her debut), and runs around their rooming house with a creepy plastic mask on, torments the obese, predatory landlord, and is known for explaining away the messes she gets into as accidents.

alice sweet alice 1976

This excuse might not fly when good little Karen is murdered before she can take her first communion by a figure in the uniform yellow rainmack all the parishioners of their church have and Alice’s creepy mask. Where was she at the time? Why is she such a little bitch? Hang on, is this 1961!??

Yes. It is. Took me a while to notice it, but the film is set in 1961, making it that über rare non-contemporary slasher movie. Catherine’s ex-husband returns to mourn his daughter and stick around until the cops can work out who is responsible. When his squawking, shrill sister-in-law is attacked ‘by Alice’, the girl is carted off to a children’s hospital for observation as she’s now the chief suspect.

alice sweet alice 1976

The film takes the unusual step of revealing who the killer is the next time they strike and it’s a genuine surprise, affording the remaining ~40 minutes to pivot between their deteriorating psychosis as they try to justify what they’ve done in the name of their beliefs, and the tail-end of the investigation, with a few more stabbings thrown in for good measure.

I underrated this film for some time and my recent re-watch showed that the attention to characters and (for its era) interesting photographic setups are where its appeal lies. It’s almost as if Catherine and her ex (with whom she is amicable – a nice change) are the only sane people in a world where pomp and ceremony are prioritised over psychological well-being. Alice is an undeniably strange little kid who evokes little sympathy for her plight given her sadistic behaviour, which provides the ultimate commentary on the motivation of the actual killer, who feels they have more right to forgiveness than a divorced mother who married after she got pregnant.

alice sweet alice 1976

It’d be nice if subsequent slasher movies had as much to say on deeper issues, rather than dance around the edges claiming to be nihilistic protests over censorship. This is clearly a standout American film, one that deserves a lot more recognition than it ever got.

Blurbs-of-interest: Alfred Sole later directed the slasher parody Pandemonium.


Leslie Vernon: The London Years. Mate.

unmasked part 25 1988


2.5 Stars  1988/18/85m

“A face only a blind girl could love!”

A.k.a. The Hand of Death Part 25: Jackson’s Back

Director: Anders Palm / Cast: Gregory Cox, Fiona Evans, Edward Brayshaw, Debbie Lee London, Kim Fenton, Howard Martin, Lucy Hornak, Steve Dixon, Marie Kelly, Anna Conrich, Robin Welch, Gary Brown, Annabel Yuresha, Helen Rochelle, Adrian Hough.

Body Count: 16

Laughter Lines: “No sense bothering to run. You’ll get ten feet maybe, run into a branch or stumble over a root…”

This weird satire is like a late-80s British version of Behind the Mask, with Cox as a Jason-esque hockey masked killer who stalks the streets of London, killing young people, until he meets Shelley, last girl at the house party he’s just torn through, who is blind and thinks he’s the date she was waiting on.

Jackson and Shelley begin to date and he tells her of his love of Byron, having read books he took from the bodies of camp counsellors he slayed in America before returning home. They try kinky sexy in a truly weird scene, go to the park, dine together, and she wants to introduce him to her (surviving) friends, which touches a nerve.

unmasked part 25 1988

Jackson’s destitute father reminds him he is a freak whose only purpose is to kill and kill and kill until Jackson succumbs to the pressure, tells Shelley not to attend a party at a country house, and turns up instead to pitchfork, skewer, cleave, and slash the attendees.

Evident budget constraints leave this film looking like an overlong sketch show skit, which is only bookended by Jackson’s killing sprees, which are liberally gory, and the actors conform to quite 19th century stereotypes in terms of their “cor blimey, guv’nor” accents and utterances, except Shelley who is well spoken enough to be a royal.

unmasked part 25

Some amusing insights into stalk n’ slash conventions and a couple of inventive murder setups (a girl offers the killer a blow job to spare her and receives a shattered lightbulb on a lamp base in the mouth instead), plus some frontal male nudity (!) are all mildly diverting aspects, but everything between the first and last fifteen minutes tends to drag.

“If I can’t be a cheerleader… no one can be a cheerleader.”

pandemonium 1982


3.5 Stars  1982/PG/78m

“Finally, a movie that is totally taste-free.”

A.k.a. Thursday the 12th (working title)

Director: Alfred Sole / Writers: Richard Whitley & Jaime Klein / Cast: Tom Smothers, Carol Kane, Candy Azzara, Judge Reinhold, Debralee Scott, Marc McClure, Teri Landrum, Miles Chapin, Tab Hunter, Paul Reubens, David L. Lander.

Body Count: 12

Laughter Lines: “I know every cheerleading camp here has ended in death, but I put all my lifesavings into this camp!”

Sense of humour reflects our taste in horror to some degree: What makes me roll on the floor howling with laughter might make you pull a face like someone just farted in the elevator. Thus, reviewing these parody films is always a bit pointless, as they were – and still are – nothing but a collection of cheap gags with a contemporaneous quality that are dated the second the shoot wraps.

Arriving eight months after Student Bodies, there’s no apparent box office information for Pandemonium, which was forced to change its name after Saturday the 14th came out the previous October, possibly scuppering its chances to make a splash, as it plays closer to the Friday the 13th-inspired shenanigans than Wacko or Class ReunionPandemonium is, for one, a hard word for me to type, and just ‘meh’ as a title.

pandemonium 1982

A spate of cheerleader slayings closes down a cheerleading camp (the javelin shish-ke-bob kill is actually hilarious), which is later reopened by longtime wannabe pom-pom waver Bambi (Azzara), who attracts six ‘teens’ to enrol and try to buck the trend of murders that plague all previous attempts to reopen the camp. We have Mandy, Sandy, Randy, Andy, Candy, and Glenn – Glenn Dandy – fresh faced and ready to bounce on mini-trampettes and into bed with one another. Unlike her peers, Candy possesses telekinetic abilities, which will come in handy later, methinks.

While carts of Japanese tourists interrupt practice, and the local Canadian mountie searches for two escaped killers (“Is Jarett the man who murdered his entire family with a hand drill?” / “That’s right. Then varnished them and made a lovely set of bookshelves.”) a black-gloved fiend tries to trim the camper roster, eventually succeeding with the help of rigged-trampolines, the electric toothbrush from hell, pom-poms, and megaphones.

pandemonium 1982

As with the other parodies of the time, and even Scary Movie, a good chunk of the jokes don’t really relate to the conventions of the slasher plot at all, and just exist to prop up the chuckles, and some would doubtlessly not fly post-millennium. There’s enough silliness to keep the motor running though, and it just has a colorfulness lacking in the other parodies, and just absorb some of the names in that cast!

The film kind of peters out towards the end, but at least features a not-obvious killer with motive and not some dream-within-a-dream bollocks, or no killer at all, and the body count actually goes somewhere north of four. Stupid, but let’s not pretend it was ever intended to be anything else.

pandemonium 1982

Blurbs-of-interest: Alfred Sole previously directed Alice Sweet Alice; Carol Kane was in When a Stranger Calls and later Office Killer; Miles Chapin was in The Funhouse; Tab Hunter was later in Grotesque; Marc McClure – the first Jimmy Olsen – was in Dead Kids; Judge Reinhold was later in The Hollow, with Eileen Brennan, who appears with the delicious Piper Laurie send-up; Paul Reubens, pre-Pee Wee years here, was in The Tripper after his porn theater shame extravaganza. Look out for Sydney Lassick, Eve Arden, and late Simpsons voice actor Phil Hartman in cameos.

Lies we tell ourselves

haute tension 2003 high tension switchblade romanceHAUTE TENSION

4 Stars  2003/18/89m

“Hearts will bleed.”

A.k.a. High Tension (USA); Switchblade Romance (UK)

Director/Writer: Alexandre Aja / Writer: Gregory Levaseur / Cast: Cecile De France, Maïwenn, Philippe Nahon, Franck Khalfoun, Andre Finti, Oana Pellea.

Body Count: 6

Unavoidably huge spoilers.

A rare four-star review in Total Film first introduced me to Haute Tension, with its minimal release in September 2004. Four stars… for a slasher flick? Turned out the minimal release was so minimal I couldn’t find a screening, so had to wait for it to arrive on DVD. That first viewing was memorable, as the film well above and beyond my expectations when that review referred to it was ‘gory’ and it was fourteen years before I spun the disc again.

College girl Alex (Maïwenn) brings her BFF Marie (de France) home to the family farm for a study break, where big city distractions won’t get in their way in the middle of nowhere. Elsewhere, a greasy mechanic in the creepiest van this side of Jeepers Creepers skull-fucks a decapitated head, which he then lobs out into a field and goes on his way.

haute tension 2003

Marie meets Alex’s parents and little brother, and settles into the attic room, has a cigarette and watches Alex showering through the window, then goes upstairs to masturbate and listen to reggae. While she’s keeping her hands busy, the scary-ass van pulls up and the inhabitant rings the bell, rousing Alex’s father from his sleep and straight into the killer’s blade. The family dog is quickly dispatched (sad face, but at least it’s not shown) and the dad decapitated in a most unusual method with lots of arterial spray. Loads, in fact. When are you cutting away, Alexandre??

Marie hears the carnage and Alex’s mom attacked and has to hide when the creaky-booted wackadoo comes searching for her, and here the High Tension commences: Marie urgently makes the bed, hides her stuff, and wipes the sink to make the room look unoccupied then finds a place to hide away. Trying to find a phone, she witnesses the murder of the mom – again, ridiculously savage, and finds Alex has been chained and bound ready for abduction, left for a few minutes while the killer chases down the kid brother (mercifully off camera).

haute tension 2003

Still off the his radar, Marie ends up stuck in the van when she tries to liberate Alex, and driven off as a secret captive. The next round of High Tension occurs at a gas station where she escapes the van and plays cat and mouse in the shop, while the loon converses with the jittery night clerk (who knows she’s there). Marie hides again but this time screws herself over as the killer drives off with Alex, but without her. Unable to tell the cops where she even is, Marie takes the [dead] clerk’s car and chases the creepy-ass van further into the middle of nowhere, until he works out she’s there.

Final girl shoes on, High Tension Round 3 is Marie versus the killer in a grow house. At this point, those who criticise slasher films for bad decision making are probably happy that Marie doesn’t drop her weapon when she finally has the option to strike back, beating the fuck out of the killer until he ain’t ever getting up.

And then the twist cometh… Marie is the killer.

haute tension 2003 cecile de france

HOW? we caw, there’ve been multiple scenes where Marie’s been in the back of a moving van with Alex. And yet…

Watching the film back with foreknowledge of this actually unearths several clues: Marie talks about a dream she had where she was being chased by a madman, but felt she, too, was chasing herself; The seams of where Marie ends and her ‘other self’ takes over are sometimes apparent as well. She has no clue she is both people, so when she finally frees Alex, she has no clue why Alex immediately stabs her.

The misty motive is a partially-offensive obsessed-lesbian thing: Marie loves Alex and is crazy jealous that it’s not reciprocal.

Many have stated the twist entirely ruins Haute Tension and, to some degree, it is damaging. Much fuss has been made over the story similarity to the Dean Koontz novel Intensity (where no such twist exists), so it’s possible to see why Aja wanted to steer away from copying it entirely. I took it to be Marie’s version of events (in her head, at least), as the opening scene occurs in the aftermath of it all. It does undermine some of the amazing scenes, but really, who cares? Lots of horror movies stock weird twists, I think if the first two acts weren’t so good, nobody would be bothered. That Aja has created such an effective slasher experience has super-charged the negative reaction – better than indifference though, eh?

haute tension 2003

Gobs of gore likely also contribute to the admiration the film has garnered. Over a minute was cut to avoid a Stateside NC-17 rating, and the unedited version is relentlessly violent during the four on-screen murders, with tsunamis of bloodletting that is sometimes hard to take. Aja surfed this blood wave to helm US remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D.

A horror experience if ever there was. See it uncut and undubbed.

An Ex to Grind

murder weapon 1989


1.5 Stars  1989/81m

“Sex isn’t their only weapon…”

Director: David DeCoteau [as Ellen Cabot] / Writer: Ross A. Perron / Cast: Linnea Quigley, Karen Russell, Stephen Steward, Michael Jacobs Jr., Eric Freeman [as Damon Charles], Allen First, Rodger Burt, Richard J. Sebastian, Lyle Waggoner, Lenny Rose.

Body Count: 6

Laughter Lines: “Shit, I think I fucked him to death!”

Spoilers ensure. Beginning with a 10-minute dream sequence in which there is zero dialogue, Murder Weapon skips then to more extended scenes of sexy leads Quigley and Russell talking with asylum shrinks about ‘what happened’ to them. They’re then released and go back to their Beverly Hills lives as daughters of hitmen for the mob.

Pissed at the way they’ve been wronged by men for so long, the BFFs invite six ex-boyfriends over for a party. Beer flows, stories are shared, the girls hook up with some of the guys, tits, ass, shower scenes, murder.

The most notable aspect of Murder Weapon is that all of the victims are guys, a possible flip-reverse on DeCoteau’s part of the accepted conventions that low-end slasher films were all about punishment of bouncy young women. Or just a plot scribbled on the back of a beermat, who knows? It’s not like there’s a shortage of the other oft-criticised elements of skin, bad acting, stupid decision making…

murder weapon 1989

It matters not. This is one for completists and the eagle eyed will see Eric Freeman, he of the infamous “Garbage Day!” from Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, as one of the exes, credited here as Damon Charles and still packing a whole hunk of muscle under his tight shirt.

Guys are sledgehammered, bottled, shot, and in one bizarre moment the killer’s hand pretty much pushes its way through the back of a dude’s neck and out of his throat and tosses innards into his gaping mouth! Listen out for the awesome dialogue: “We need to think of a password…” / “Uh… condom.”

If there’s a twist here, I wasn’t privy to it. Linnea is the killer – but her friend isn’t? Then why invite all the evil exes over in the first place?? How is Linnea able to teleport to under the bed, don a glove, to kill that schmuck??? It’s DeCoteau, nuff said.

Blurbs-of-interest: Linnea can also be seen in Graduation Day, Silent Night Deadly Night, Jack-O, Kolobos, Spring Break Massacre, and a cameo in Fatal Games.

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